Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


We, The Outsiders | Regional News

We, The Outsiders

Written by: Romina Meneses

Directed by: Romina Meneses

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Migrants are the golden threads that bind this country together. This show brings their stories to light.

We, The Outsiders is an original documentary theatre piece created and inspired by real-life stories of migrant workers living in New Zealand. Written and directed by Romina Meneses, who performs alongside Akash Saravanan and Sowmya Hiremath, it explores the triumphs and tribulations of those who come to this country, opening the curtain to their diverse, yet seemingly universal experiences.

The performers speak in an interview-esque style, presenting what feels like a live documentary. They take great care in retelling experiences without creating stereotypes, embodying not the migrants themselves, but their stories. This feels very respectful considering the diversity of those who were interviewed. I also enjoy the use of humour, woven throughout as a tool to ease tension. 

Josiah Matagi’s lighting design evokes moods of pain and paradise, emphasising well the juxtaposition of the suffering and splendour of moving to a new country. Scene changes are integrated into the performance, feeling like a metaphoric reminder of the constant changing and challenging situations migrants endure. Woven together with movement, Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz’s compositions create thought-provoking, mesmerising moments throughout the piece.

Here, I catch my breath to think not only of the perspectives of migrants, but also the privilege we who live here have. On top of this, as a third-generation immigrant on my mother’s side, this production resonates with me. I know my family has endured many of the hardships portrayed in these 13 scenes.

There are so many heartfelt, beautiful moments and stories encapsulated in one short hour. Presented under the umbrella of the Six Degrees Festival, supported by Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, We, The Outsiders is for all those who call New Zealand home and those who feel far from home. I urge you all to come to this enchanting piece of theatre.

The Supper Club | Regional News

The Supper Club

Created by: Ali Harper

Directed by: Ian Harman

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine an old, abandoned Supper Club. The ghosts of grandeur haunt every cobwebbed corner, the hopes and dreams once nurtured within now scattered like boa feathers in the wind. But with Tom McLeod and The Jazz Hot Supper Club Band, New Zealand songstress Ali Harper is about to restore The Supper Club to its former glory, embodying the various singers whose echoes still reverberate through its storied, sequined past.

As characters like the happy-go-lucky English girly and the sharp, smouldering German superstar, Harper trills, thrills, and traverses everything from Cole Porter’s It’s De-Lovely to Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien to Madonna’s Material Girl. Because anything can (and does!) happen in this fabulous production, I don’t wish to spoil any further specifics or surprises… only to give you a taste of the tantalising talent within.

First up, there’s Harper, whose respect and reverence for the muses she inhabits is palpable. With charm, charisma, and chops for days, she is, quite simply, sensational.

Then we have that phenomenal band, with musical director Tom McLeod on arrangements and piano, Blair Latham on saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and flute, Olivia Campion on percussion, and Scott Maynard on double bass. A tight, cohesive unit in their own right, when paired with Harper, their joy is infectious, their chemistry crackling. They bounce off each other like reflections from a disco ball.

Everything director Ian Harman touches turns to gold. As set and costume designer to boot, he’s created the world where all this magic takes place. Meticulous details abound, from the crystal glasses that once would have housed the finest cognac to the way Harper’s dazzling black gown catches the light.

And speaking of light, Rich Tucker’s moody, glam lighting scheme brings this Supper Club to life, crafting intimate moments while highlighting the showstopping spectacle of it all in equal measure. The epitome of ambience.

The Supper Club? A delightful, delicious, de-lovely escape.

Wonka | Regional News



116 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Chocolate cherries and gourmet ganache, Rocher rivers and fudge flowers, the newest iteration of Roald Dahl’s capricious chocolatier in the 2023 movie Wonka is so sweet it’s saccharine. In fact, the whole story is Pure Imagination.

From the fanciful mind of Paul King – creator of PaddingtonWonka is supposedly the musical origin story of the eccentric, egocentric, megalomaniac Willy Wonka that we all know and kind of love… but it’s actually something altogether different.

Played by Timothée Chalamet, Willy is a starry-eyed youth with a “hatful of dreams” and suitcase full of chocolate hoping to change the world. Naïve and overly optimistic, the young man lands himself in a predicament involving two Dickensian con artists and an all-powerful chocolate cartel. With his ragtag band of newfound friends, including the wise orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Willy may risk everything, but he never loses hope or the belief that the world is good.

Comparing Chalamet’s Wonka to Johnny Depp’s wouldn’t be fair, much less to the unparalleled maniacal genius of Gene Wilder. At the best of times I’m not a fan of Chalamet as I find him flat and, frankly, dull. In the shoes of the beloved Wonka he didn’t stand a chance. But truly, in this case, I don’t believe it is his fault.

Chalamet sings beautifully and dances all the better. Nathan Crowley’s production design is a decadent feast for the eyes. The jokes, though predictable, are charming, especially from Hugh Grant’s posh Oompa-Loompa. Even the fanciful moments of magic are beautifully crafted. As a standalone story, Wonka is sweet in a Disney-esque sense.

However, Wonka comes from a long-loved legacy. This prequel does not match up with the inevitable future. Chalamet’s optimistic humanitarian gives no indication of transforming into the capitalist, nihilistic sociopath he is doomed to become. In fact, he fights those characters tooth and nail. The dark and lonely future of Willy Wonka casts no shadow on this idealistic youth. Perhaps in the future, hardened by many years, the world won’t stack up to his own imagination. Perhaps he learns that only within his mind will he be free. I just wish, even fleetingly, this darkness had tangoed across the screen.

The Lady Demands Satisfaction | Regional News

The Lady Demands Satisfaction

Written by: Arthur M. Jolly

Directed by: James Kiesel

Gryphon Theatre, 29th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Oh, how delightful, a story with sword fights and shenanigans. What fun!

Set in the 1700s, The Lady Demands Satisfaction is a farce following the peppy Trothe Pepperston (Sarah Penny) as she enlists the help of her two favourite servants (Tristana Leist and Teresa Sullivan) and her sword master aunt Theodosia (Gwendoline Guerineau) to ward off any challengers that try to take advantage of her inheritance following her father’s untimely death.

Starting with shadow swordplay, the opening splendidly sets the scene. What follows is sustained side-splitting laughter continuing up until the bows. Did I mention sword fights?

The fight scenes, coordinated by Simon Manns, are both hilarious and mesmerising. The characters are so willing to pick a fight that they would do so with any household item they could get their hands on.

Meredith Dooley’s costume design has got to be one of the many highlights of this Stagecraft Theatre production. Dooley’s design provides period-accurate costumes but with a colourful, zany flair, perfectly illustrating the essence of the play. So much effort has been put into these costumes, even all of Trothe’s handkerchiefs match her beautiful crinoline dress. 

Through gobos and candlelight, Scott Maxim’s lighting design creates an atmosphere that works perfectly with the costume and set design (Josh Hopton-Stewart) to create a cosy Georgian manor. A perfect setting for this rambunctious series of events to melodramatically unfold.

Charismatic comedic characterisation must be commended. Each actor is a master of comedy. Penny truly encapsulates her character of Trothe Pepperston, from the way she awkwardly trots to her squeals of laughter. Guerineau’s sensational sword fighting is something splendid to witness. The entire cast maintains a hilarious presence throughout the show.

I am still struggling to grasp how engaging and funny this fever dream of a play is. I would urge you to book tickets at once before any Prussian master takes your place and you’ll be left for dead without seeing this hilarious Stagecraft show.

HAUSDOWN | Regional News


Written by: Ruby Carter and Katie Hill

Directed by: Katie Hill

BATS Theatre, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Fans of Jane Austen and Regency-era drama are being spoiled with a range of productions on Wellington stages, and HAUSDOWN is a refreshing and joyfully queer take on this, revelling in the inherent queerness in the extravagance of the period.

Plays that are set in the Regency era benefit greatly from attentiveness to technical elements such as costume and set in order to bring the period to life. HAUSDOWN excels at this. Costumes (Ruby Carter) are delightfully camp, capturing the characters and their world well. The rainbow palette across the different characters is a nice touch. 

The set (Scott Maxim) is also evocative and feels at home with the theatre’s stained-glass dome above. The floor is painted as concrete-coloured tiles, and a wall has been constructed to run across the back of the stage, closing in the space and giving the impression of a more traditional box set, which serves the play and period fittingly. The centre of the back wall is a large window of opaque plastic, which is then lit from behind (Teddy O’Neill) to assist in setting the scene. While there are some dark spots and unevenness in the lighting, there is a lot of creative use of colour, furthering the playfulness of the show.

The eight actors are all completely committed to the exaggerated characters they play, keeping the pace and energy high throughout. They navigate sections of dialogue and more physical clowning (choreography and clowning by Daniel Nodder) with coordination and aplomb. The accents are consistent and add further levity to the performances, but at times lines are lost as dialogue is not enunciated clearly enough, and we want to catch every word when the pace of the story is so fast.

The play is short and sharp, and put together well with strong performances and technical elements that work in concert, even if I would have liked more material in the dialogue to help tell the story. That said, HAUSDOWN is goofy fun, certainly achieving Inconceivable Productions’ goal to share whimsical, queer joy.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot | Regional News

Waiting For Waiting For Godot

Written by: Dave Hanson

Directed by: Michael Hurst

Hannah Playhouse, 28th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Waiting For Waiting For Godot by award-winning American playwright Dave Hanson takes Samuel Beckett’s iconic, absurdist masterpiece to new, meta heights. Two understudies (Callum Brodie as Ester and George Maunsell as Val) wait to go on in a production of Waiting For Godot. Stuck backstage in perpetuity, we watch the two actors contemplate fame and fortune as they wait for their number to be called, for their tables to turn. But like Godot, their time in the spotlight never comes.

I’ve dropped that semi-spoiler because it’s important to note that in this 75-minute production, nothing really happens. But I’ve never been less bored watching ‘nothing’, waiting for Waiting For Godot alongside our neurotic, hapless heroes. This comedy could be oxymoronically deemed fast-paced waiting or mile-a-minute nothingness. Even the still moments are loaded with action, the silences fraught with tension. And so brilliant are the actors, you could cut the chemistry with a knife.

Brodie is hilarious as the pompous peacock Ester, a perpetual underachiever too big for his boots (and his vest). His performance is able to reach deliciously extravagant heights thanks to the solid anchorage below: Maunsell as the more-competent, less-experienced Val. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Maunsell’s softer performance is both captivating and crucially grounding. Michael Hurst’s meticulous direction strikes balance on a precipice, never allowing the performances to teeter over the edge as the cast navigates that fine line between hysterically funny and hammy with aplomb.

Iana Grace as the assistant stage manager makes two cameos that serve to highlight how ridiculous the understudies are, what a faraway world they inhabit. While I preferred getting lost in the Ester-and-Val show, made all the more engrossing by one knockout lighting state change (Alex Turner) and a set that looks like a bomb went off, the introduction of another character does add an interesting texture to the stage dynamic.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot is a masterclass in craftsmanship. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year. I shook with laughter even as it resonated with me deeply. The best kind of theatre.

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People | Regional News

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

Written by: Rachel McAlpine

Directed by: Robin Payne

Circa Theatre, 26th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People tagline reads, “Is life worth living after 90? Ask the experts!” and this production does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s ‘close-work theatre’ in which Wellington author Rachel McAlpine has devised the script by interviewing a selection of local nonagenarians and compiling five fictional characters from their stories.

These characters are still-in-love couple Peggy (Annie Ruth) and Tom (Lloyd Scott), enjoying a stately existence in a retirement home after a life of poverty and struggle. Alongside them is Māori kuia, Puti (Grace Hoete), who was led to believe her ethnicity was Portuguese and only discovered her tangata whenua heritage later in life. Gilbert (Gary Young) is a successful man who hates the injustice he sees in the world, and Zinnia (Anna O’Brien) is a lively musician who grew up trying to deny her sexual attraction to other women.

To the accompaniment of freshly made cups of tea from kettles located at the back of the stage, the five actors (who range in age from 43 to 81, they tell us) relate the stories of these carefully composed people from the comfort of chairs, occasionally wandering the stage to emphasise a point. That’s as sophisticated as Robin Payne’s direction gets and, along with simple spotlighting (Alexander R Dickson), is all that’s needed to enable the audience to fully engage with the direct-address style of storytelling.

The characters traverse topics that are predictable enough – health issues, sex, political and social change, losing a child – but also prejudice and privilege in ways that are not so predictable. They’re expressed in a manner that can only come from the mouths of real people; “Thank you, God, for one more bonk” gets the biggest laugh.

Beautifully bookending the show is video testimony from three doyens of the Circa stage: Desmond Kelly, Kate Harcourt, and Sunny Amey.

Is life worth living after 90? Based on this production, the answer is emphatically yes!

Treasure Island – The Pantomime | Regional News

Treasure Island – The Pantomime

Written by: Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 13th Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Every year, families flock to Circa Theatre from across the region to catch the annual pantomime, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-fun Kiwi take on a children’s classic.

Treasure Island – The Pantomime follows young orphan Jim (Reuben Romanos), who lives in Island Bay with Aunt Peggy Legg (Jthan Morgan), a poor, lonely widow (aww). With a head full of stars and big dreams of something more, Jim’s mundane life becomes anything but when his dog Patch (Jackson Burling) regurgitates a treasure map. Dodging a crooked crew comprising the dastardly Long John Silver (Kathleen Burns), the hapless Smee (Tawhi Thomas), and other horsey, sleepy, and out-of-the-loop pirates (Bronwyn Turei), Jim, Patch, Peggy, and Sabrina the Appropriately Aged Witch (Natasha McAllister) embark on a rollicking race against time to get to the gold first.

Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford’s sharp, topical jokes traverse The ACT Party and Beehive bureaucracy, while other novel additions include a spaced-out nana (Turei), buxom, titillating treasure chests, and a kraken called Carin voiced by Karin McCracken. It’s safe to say, then, that Treasure Island – The Pantomime is only loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, but with such a strong story as its foundations and such a proficient team at its helm, the 21st-century treatment goes down a treat.

Alongside Morgan’s inability to not say “treasure map” as Peggy, the music (direction and arrangement by Michael Nicholas Williams) is my show highlight. Featuring P!NK, Eurythmics, The Beach Boys, and more, the soundtrack is performed pitch-perfectly by the powerhouse cast, who have me dancing in my seat. McAllister and Morgan’s choreography is the icing on the cake, especially in I Think We’re Alone Now.

The design elements – from Jon Coddington’s whimsical puppetry to Ian Harman’s elaborate set, Sheila Horton’s colourful costuming to Marcus McShane’s bright and bold lighting scheme – create a captivating world where the performers magnetise their talent to draw us in. It was a pleasure to get lost in Treasure Island – The Pantomime, and to holler along with the littlies in the crowd. I felt like a kid again.

Bright Star | Regional News

Bright Star

Written by: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell

Directed by: Stanford Reynolds

Te Auaha, 17th Nov 2023

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

A talented literary editor with a story of her own to tell. A mayor’s son taking a different path than his father. A young soldier trying to make his mark on the world by “following his own bright star”. These characters and a vibrant bluegrass score are the main ingredients of Bright Star, a musical set in North Carolina in the 1920s to 1940s.

Billy Cane (Fynn Bodley-Davies) has just returned from World War II to his small southern hometown and dreams of writing for the Asheville Southern Journal, publisher of the best short stories from miles around. Editor Alice Murphy (Cassandra Tse) takes him on, impressed by his spirit and quick thinking if not his writing skills. What the pair don’t yet know is that hidden in Alice’s past is a secret about to change both of their lives.

This Wellington Footlights Society production is set to a live band playing bluegrass music, an energetic string-based genre with influences of jazz and blues. The man behind me in the queue beforehand said, “there better be a banjo,” and we were not disappointed. With the band and musical direction from Michael Stebbings behind them, the talented singers shine. Tse and Chris McMillan as Alice's love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs stand out with their solos, and a surprise favourite is Billy’s hillbilly father Daddy Cane (Vishan Appanna), who has one beautiful duet with his son and hops around after frogs in the river for the rest of the play.

The set (concept and coordination by director Stanford Reynolds) and lighting (design and operation by Tom Smith and Lucas Zaner) are simple yet effective, creating a new mood for each scene with bright yellow light for party songs and darker, individual spotlights in more emotional, personal moments. The chorus rearranges a small collection of benches and chairs between scenes. I did feel that more could be made of the projector screen behind the stage, which is lit up quite sporadically throughout.

All in all, Bright Star is heartfelt, infectious, and made me cry several times – an unexpected must-see.